“From vistas uncharted return, from beasts unslain escape, from skies unknown learn what shall be your final shape.” Darrin shook his head, eyes gazing at the fire.
“You know it’s all fake, right?” Pol grinned.
Darrin raised bushy eyebrows.
“The entire quest. Send us out when we turn sixteen. Discover what it takes to be a man on our own in the wilderness. Nothing’s going to happen. ‘Uncharted vistas’? Like hell. We’ve mapped the entire solar system. There’s nothing left to map. ‘Beasts unslain’? Name me one creature that’s ever escaped our hunters. ‘Skies unknown’? That would take sailing out to another star, and we don’t have the tech for that. Won’t for a long time.” He spat. “The whole thing is just a stupid tradition. Make men of us? Hard to be men when everything’s been done.”
Darrin tightened his lips. Wasn’t worth it to fight. Pol didn’t believe. He never listened to the stories. He lay down. Nothing would happen until the fire died down, and that would be a bit. Might as well get some sleep while he could.
Pol laughed. “You actually think something’s going to happen?”
Darrin rolled over in his sleeping bag.
Pol mocked for a while… and then finally gave up. He drank some more from his flask before settling down.
Darrin awoke with a start. Embers glowed in the fire pit. No moon lit the sky.
But the camp glowed. A hooved creature moved toward him. Calloused hands reached down toward the fire and spoke words that cracked against Darrin’s ears. Orange eyes fell on him. “Son of man. The contract must be respected. Would you see the vistas?”
Darrin sat up. Leathery wings folded against the creature’s back. Antlers spread above its head.
“Where are they?”
“In shifting lands, son of man. I will take you there, but I will not bring you back. You must find your own way.”
Darrin glanced at Pol. He snored in his bag.
“He is not worthy.”
“He won’t be a man?”
“Every human child ages, but not every boy becomes a man. You have the opportunity to take a new shape, but it will take pain. And wonder. You have enough of one, and you will have the chance to learn the other.” One of its hoofs stamped the dirt. “My time on your sphere grows short.”
“Take me there.”
In the morning, Pol found the camp empty. He shook his head. “Coward. Probably called for his daddy to get him.”
“Oh, I was gotten, but not by any father of mine.”
The deep voice startled Pol. He spun.
Darrin stood, cloaked in the tattered remains of his clothing. “I know my shape now. And I know yours.” He shook his head. “I hope whatever children you may have take on a better shape.”
I wrote for fifteen minutes, edited for five, and this came out. I’m pretty happy with this!